What's the etymological explanation for the apostrophe in the word ім'я? In English, an apostrophe usually stands for one letter that's dropped. (i.g. I'm= I Am, didn't = did nOt, etc.)

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    In Ukrainian apostrofe means that a sound of previous letter is not «soft». Ukrainian m is always «hard», so there is apostrofe and no etymology. Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 6:13
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    Voting aims to improve the quality of the questions. What's the reason for the down-voting in this case? It's better to explain what's wrong with this question together with the down-voting. I really came with a small knowledge about this language and it doesn't seem welcoming to me as a learner of this language. Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 14:42
  • I didn't vote down, but here's what would have been the reason for my downvoting in case I did. I googled "apostrophe in Ukrainian" and the first link was sufficient to understand that it's got a phonetical function only.
    – P. Vowk
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 15:00
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    I agree. Just have to say that based on experience in past, it was really difficult for me to find specific information about some question about Ukrainian language. I'll google in future before I post questions. Thanks. Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 15:08
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    @UbiquitousStudent Probably your question got downvoted because you haven't done any research on the topic whatsoever. It's mandatory for questions in the SE network to contain at least a basic amount of research on the topic from the person who asks. Essentially in this instance, you just asked people to google instead of yourself and the biggest problem - there are correct and complete resources on the web that answer your question, e.g. the link provided by P. Vowk.
    – improbable
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 9:16

1 Answer 1


I think, you might rely on the wrong assumption that the apostrophe always (and in every language) means contraction (like let uslet's).

But in Ukrainian the apostrophe usually means that a letter following it should be read as in the beginning of the word ('though sometimes it can be used by other means).

There is a set of Ukrainian letters — я, є, ю — which are read differently depending on their position:

  • after a consonant, я, є, ю are read similarly to (Ukrainian) а, е, у but with palatalizing or semipalatalizing the consonant (i.e. /ʲɑ/, /ʲɛ/, /ʲu/);
  • in the beginning of the word or after a vowel, я, є, ю are read in the way as the letter combinations йа, йе, йу would be read, i.e. with explicit iotation (//, //, /ju/; like in yard, Yates, Eugene).

The apostrophe in ім'я makes the я letter to sound as in the beginning of the word (//), not as usually after a consonant (/ʲɑ/).

In standard Ukrainian, м is never palatalized (except semipalatalization in мі). So, one may argue that there's no ambiguity — as we almost never pronounce /mʲɑ/ and almost always pronounce /mjɑ/, we could "imply" apostrophe between м and я. Still, in practice we prefer to explicitly put the apostrophe there. Especially that such untypical for standard Ukrainian sound combinations like /mʲɑ/ may appear in untypical cases like abbreviations, barbarisms, foreign word transcriptions, etc.

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    Regarding the subscript, as with any rule there are exceptions, and in this case the first one coming to mind is e.g. names like Альбер Камю (Albert Camus). In this case we don't use the apostrophe and м is palatalized. Кам'ю would sound different. But it is true at least to native Ukrainian words.
    – scadge
    Commented Apr 4 at 7:23

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